Capturing motion when beauty strikes a chord

Tan Weiyun
Iranian-British artist Shirazeh Houshiary's first exhibition in China will feature a series of new works inspired by her experience in the UK during the coronavirus lockdown.
Tan Weiyun

Iranian-British artist Shirazeh Houshiary’s first exhibition in China “As Time Stood Still” is to open next Saturday at Shanghai’s Lisson Gallery, featuring a series of new works inspired by her experience in the United Kingdom during the coronavirus lockdown.

The exhibition is deeply personal and philosophical, exploring profound questions about perception and imagination, as well as the fundamental power of beauty.

“As time stood still through the lockdown and with death all around, it’s beauty that strikes a chord with most of us,” Houshiary said. “Beauty in nature and the movement of trees as the breeze ruffles its leaves. Beauty is the awareness of life and our ephemeral existence.”

The exhibition follows the artist’s trip to China in 2018, including a visit to Dunhuang’s Library Cave, a UNESCO World Heritage site on China’s Silk Road.

During the trip, Houshiary was invited by the Central Academy of Fine Arts to an in-depth dialogue with artist Yu Hong, where they discussed the history of this artistic and religious site, the significance of Silk Road and Houshiary’s early interest as a young child in stories from this region.

Since the 1980s, she has sought to embody profound abstract concepts, namely the very essence of existence — transcending any form of perceived identity from nationality, language, culture or beliefs — through her work. The mediums she works with include painting, sculpture, installation, architecture and film.

Capturing motion when beauty strikes a chord
Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

Shirazeh Houshiary’s sculpture “Duet”

Born in Shiraz, Iran, in 1955, Houshiary moved to London in 1974. In the 1980s, galleries around the world began exhibiting her work — from the Venice Biennale in 1982 to a 1994 nomination for the Turner Prize, considered the British art world’s highest honor.

Her first solo exhibition at Lisson Gallery took place in 1984. In 2018, Houshiary was awarded the Asia Society’s Asia Game Changer Award, which honors people making positive contributions to Asia’s future.

Her work is included in prestigious public collections worldwide, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and Guggenheim Museum, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, and London’s Tate.

“As Time Stood Still” is a pertinent reflection of our current state of existence, with visual commentary on this period of global transformation but from an alternative perspective. The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to observe what has arisen in the pandemic’s wake — a sense of appreciation and gratitude for natural surroundings.

“As the lockdown has continued, I haven’t been distracted by events and have found solace in looking through the window of my studio into the woods beyond,” she said. “Here, all relationships and ideas that make up the cosmic process can be seen, and I am reminded how shortsighted humanity can be.”

In five powerful new paintings created this year — “Swell,” “Parable,” “Mind and Matter,” “Chimera” and “The Big Picture,” Houshiary mirrors the passing nature of the atmosphere around people, overlaying markings with fleeting patterns that dance and weave around each other. Along with these works, a new sculpture “Duet” uses a wall as its stage. Its red and dark blue ribbons recede and advance, gesturing to draw the viewer closer.

“I am trying to capture motion in continuous movement rather than in a static, solid form,” she said. “Light and transparency play a big part in this, where the immaterial becomes the invisibility of the material.”

Houshiary also noted the similarity of the intertwining ribbon motifs in these works to those found in Dunhuang’s Mogao Caves that depict wind or star gods, as well as flying apsaras and celestial beings that charge across the many murals.

Exhibition info

Date: From September 12 to October 24 (closed on Sundays and Mondays), 11am-6pm, or call 6333-9296 to make appointments for special tours given when the gallery is closed to the public.
Venue: Lisson Gallery
Address: 2/F, 27 Huqiu Road

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